In recent times, life sims and 'wholesome' gaming have taken almost every platform by storm, and now developer Wonderscope Games presents Hokko Life, a colourful community simulator encouraging you to take life at your own pace. This intriguing animal-filled life sim echoes one of Nintendo's most popular titles but leaves us wondering what makes it a unique experience.
In the beginning, you're transported to a quiet, somewhat dishevelled town that seems utterly void of life. It's dark and slightly ominous, with only two buildings to welcome you. Arriving at the train station and being immediately thrust into a sleepy town with no explanation recalls early Animal Crossing titles. The comparison itself might seem trite, but from the get-go, it's impossible to look at Hokko Life without comparing it to Nintendo's life sim. Mechanics, character design, and gameplay all feel heavily influenced by the series, yet Hokko Life lacks the same level of charm and struggles to provide enough content to fill up a day. Getting settled in takes around six to eight hours, but following this, there's no real drive to keep you engaged.
On the whole, Hokko Life's visuals are a mixed bag. While the landscapes do look pretty good, they don't showcase as much detail as other life sims. On the plus side, the buildings and furniture are all relatively detailed, and it's nice to see your crafted items looking that extra bit nice. Unfortunately, despite the animal characters being reminiscent of Nintendo's own, their vacant eyes and oddly humanoid bodies are slightly off-putting. If you're willing to overlook the game's rather creepy characters, however, the slightly smoother graphics at least makes the world look pleasant on Switch.
As well as looking uncanny, Hokko Life's characters are lacking in variety, and you'll see the same few species during your playthrough. The only slight differences you'll get are in the form of mismatched, garish colour palettes and odd accessories. The game's animal residents become repetitive quickly. Their blank expressions, paired with the equally-empty dialogue, offer no substance, personality, or charm to the game, and the characters feel like they are only there to accept quests from when you can't find anything else to do.
As you progress through Hokko Life, the world opens up and the game begins to offer slightly more than solely island life. For example, alongside fishing and chopping trees, your character gets a pickaxe and can take it to the mines. Fishing and creature collection also provides a bit of extra encouragement for you to keep exploring, but it's undoubtedly no Critterpedia. You eventually unlock the ability to access the train to visit a city centre which offers a bit more liveliness than the village, but there isn't much outside of that as most quests are retrieved from the starting village, which makes you feel like you're tied to the village rather than being encouraged to venture out most of the time.
Farming is another encouraging element of Hokko Life, which helps the game stray from its Animal Crossing motives and lean more toward a Story of Seasons or even Stardew Valley-like experience, but — once again — it offers nothing new to veterans of the genre. It's fun to decorate and customise your farm with crafted items, but outside of growing the crops, there's no appeal rather than lining your pockets with a bit of extra cash.
Like other farming sims, the game's day and night cycle is unrelated to real-world time. You can sleep several hours in a day or even move on to the next, but there usually isn't any need to other than to speed up a house build. Things like bridges and inclines are built immediately once they're crafted and placed, so it's at least refreshing not to wait a day to cross a river or climb a cliff.
There's also an unbridled sense of customization that allows you to place crafted items throughout the town, but it doesn't always feel like a smooth process, The back and forth between crafting items to returning to town to place them feels unnecessarily long and laborious. However, the ability to move houses at the press of a button is something a lot of Animal Crossing players will envy, and it is the ability to re-design villagers' homes without needing to pay for separate DLC is nice.
We can see why things work with a keyboard and mouse in terms of controls, and unfortunately, the game's controls haven't translated well to Switch. Moving your character is fine, but selecting anything in the character customisation or object placement menus feels like a challenge. Cursor movement sensitivity is incredibly high, and as there's no way to change it, you end up getting frustrated and settling for whatever was last selected. Moving objects around the map with the right thumbstick is also slow and tedious unless your character moves at the same time, but even then, the slightest nudge will have you placing a house a few extra to the left.
One big positive of Hokko Life is its music and sound design. Both of these elements help emphasise the cosy and comforting vibe of the game with soft guitar and gentle piano tunes that accompany every element of exploration. Additionally, there's a perfect balance between background music and natural sound that make the game feel immersive, but the stagnant gameplay prevents you from being able to fully sink in.
Despite deriving a lot of its influences from games like Animal Crossing, especially with its island life and anthropomorphic animal inhabitants, Hokko Life severely lacks in personality and unique identity. For a game that promises a relaxing experience, you spend more time walking around trying to find something to do rather than sitting back and enjoying the game's gentle progression. There are a few redeemable factors through customisation and its sound design, but outside of that, Hokko Life doesn't offer anything we haven't seen before.